|There was much optimism in California's Mother Lode during
the holiday season of 1849. Gold had been discovered a year earlier and
miners were scampering to the Sierra Nevada foothills to make their fortunes.
Some succeeded right away but even those who didnn't thought
it would be only a matter of time before their labor paid off in gold.
Like his peers, William George Wilson was a hopeful miner
in Auburn- Georgetown area northeast of Sacramento. Unlike most his fellow
miners, Wilson brought his wife with him from Utah to the California gold
Women were such a rarity to the area that miners sometimes
traveled several miles out of their way to catch a glimpse of Mrs. Wilson
washing clothes in a stream.
But the miners were in store for a real treat that holiday
season. On Christmas Day, Mrs. Wilson gave birth to a 12-pound boy- the
first child to be born on Canyon Creek during the Gold Rush.
The Wilsons were a modest couple and kept the birth a
secret. However, the child's cries were heard by a couple miners who spread
the rumor that the Wilsons found a 12-pound nugget, "the handsomest ever
"News of the big find spread like wildfire up and down
the canyon where hundreds of men were at work," wrote William Bennett in
his memoirs. "At once, there was a grand rush to Bill Wilson's cabin.
Every miner was anxious to see the 12-pound lump."
The Wilsons loved the joke. They took a few miners at
a time into their cabin to see the living nugget.
"Each of the miners loved being had," Bennett wrote. "As
each squad came out of the cabin, the men solemnly asserted that the Wilson
nugget was the finest ever seen."
The miners further spread the rumor in every direction
and the well-kept joke continued for three days. Miners came from
more than 10 miles away, just to see what they thought was a giant nugget.
The baby brought luck to many of the miners who saw it.
Wilson made a big gold discovery near his cabin. Within a week, he dug
out more than $3,000, including a nugget valued at $300.
Even when the joke got out, miners still dropped by the
Wilson cabin to see the baby of Canyon Creek. A group of them made a gold
ring for Mrs. Wilson because of the happiness she brought the Mother Lode.
And although not much was written about the Wilsons after
1849, a poet anonymously penned the following lines which remain with us
today - a fitting memory saluting our Golden State's Sesquicentennial:
Craig MacDonald is a contributor to